Food & Drinks

Rapper Hugh Augustine’s Vegan Food Is a Love Letter to His L.A. Community

The toll on one’s body, mental health, and spirit from participating in a society with unapologetic anti-Blackness, capitalism, and systemic gender discrimination at its foundation has never been an easy or humane weight to bear. For Augustine, turning to plant medicine, particularly smoking weed, to cope with this daily reality has been a vital part of caring for himself. “That’s a part of my meditation, healthcare, and self-care” he says of the herb’s ability to serve as an emotional and physical balm. “It’s something that allows me to get in tune with my mind and my body—something that allows me to keep going. Because it is like a tireless job, you know?”

Creating music has been another core part of Augustine’s self-care. The craft provides the rapper with a therapeutic space to excavate personal experiences, explore vulnerabilities, and flip playful or woeful storytelling into digestible art to vibe out to. It clicked after going to his first rap concert, around age nine or ten, that he was “the same as these people” and had something to say too. In search of an outlet for his thoughts, he started writing poetry, and eventually began rapping. The catharsis of free flowing in the studio, especially with friends, good vibes, and a satisfying meal in the mix has become its own form of euphoria.

The meals usually come from local vegan gems like The Grain Café on Pico and Crenshaw, an organic, soy-free café whose traditions and flavors are greatly rooted in Oaxaca, Mexico. Other days, sliding over to Azla Vegan in Leimert Park to satisfy Ethiopian food cravings with some misir (red lentils stewed in a spicy berbere sauce), yatakilt (curry potatoes, carrots, and cabbage), and gomen (garlicky kale and collard greens) is the move. “I love eating with my hands with the injera bread,” he says. “It just takes me back to a very natural state.”

After talking with Augustine, my mind floats back to an age-old question: What does it mean to genuinely and healthily love—a person, a community, a place? A huge part of loving is caring, and an essential part of caring is a commitment to learning. Learning what nourishes and what harms. Learning how to divest from participating in that harm, and following through with action and intention, day after day. Hugh’s Hot Bowls feels like a manifestation of that intention, a way of pouring love into people and a community Augustine wants to see flourish. Providing sustenance to Black people, with our health and well-being in mind, has always been part of Black liberation work, from the Black Panthers’ free lunch program in 1969 to the rising number of community fridges and restaurant initiatives serving the people today.

Hugh’s Hot Bowls, which includes event catering and meal prep, has sold over 3,000 bowls in its 6-month run. Curated weekly menus are shared on Augustine’s Instagram on Wednesdays, and community members can pick up the dish of the week, like spicy fusilli pasta with zucchini and garlic bread or fan favorite, The Soul Bowl—red beans and rice, greens, yams, mac ‘n’ cheese, and a freshly baked cornbread muffin—during a designated two-hour block on Thursdays and Fridays.

Augustine, who has been vegan for almost two years, is using Hugh’s Hot Bowls to spark more community dialogue about the connection between climate change and the meat industry. He’s also practicing communal care during quarantine by teaming up with peers. You can catch him vending at select events by WalkGoodLA, a Los Angeles-based health and wellness organization founded by actor and filmmaker Etienne Maurice, which focuses on activism through activation with events like socially distanced town halls, outdoor movie nights, and free guided yoga on Sunday mornings at LA High Memorial Park. Hugh’s Hot Bowls has also partnered with Echo Park Fund, an initiative started by writer and retired WNBA player Talia Caldwell, that provides free homework help, laptops, and hot meals to kids in the community, as well as resources to Echo Park’s tent community.

“When I think about L.A., I think about my grandmother, the diverse range of ideologies and people that find a way to work together every day to make this city what it is, and this being a foundation for where I am now,” says Augustine. “I really think this is one of the best places in the world. I’ve been to so many cities where I’ve been like, I could live here, I could stay, I don’t think I want to go home. But there’s something that always brings me back to LA, and a big part of it is the people.” He pauses, “The city, to me, is family. This is where my heart is, this is where my love is.”

Hugh’s Hot Bowls will be passing out free food for a Community Friendsgiving in Tha Alley on Degnan in Leimert Park this Saturday, November 21st. If you’d like to donate to support, send to $hugh91 on Cashapp or @hughaugustine on Venmo.

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